Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ottolenghi's Eggplant with Buttermilk-Yogurt Sauce, Thyme, Za'atar & Pomegranate

I have been wanting to make Yotam Ottolenghi's Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce for quite some time. Partly because it looks so darn pretty as the cover of Plenty, partly because I love a good eggplant dish. 

I didn't always love eggplant. We weren't an eggplant-eating family that I can recall--probably due to my dad. I'm am guessing that he wasn't a fan, in which case it wouldn't get a rotation on the meal menu. I don't remember exactly where I was when I first had it but, I do remember eating a really bad Eggplant Parmigiana early on in my eggplant experiences. It was mushy, with soggy breadcrumbs and no flavor and that pretty much sealed the deal with me and eggplant for many years. I couldn't understand why people would even want to eat the stuff. I'm not sure when it changed but I think it was when I moved to Oahu with a plethora of Asian dishes with long, skinny Japanese eggplant in them on every menu. Then I had some well cooked eggplant dishes--Moussaka and Baba Ganoush from my favorite Mediterranean restaurant, Ratatouille, and a delicious Eggplant Parmesan Tartine at a favorite lunch spot. My loathing for eggplant turned to liking then finally to love. 

That made eggplant the perfect choice for this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs theme: "You Made Me Love You"--ingredients that that over the years, we have come to love or at least like. This simple dish features roasted eggplant flavored with thyme, topped with a creamy yogurt-buttermilk sauce and sprinkled with flavorful za'atar spice blend and tangy pomegranate seeds. Spooned onto some whole grain naan bread, it makes a quick and easy starter or a light dinner. 

I made a few changes to the recipe--noted in red below. 

Otttolenghi says, "I can't think of a more rustically elegant (is that a contradiction in terms?) starter. Serve with some robust white bread or pita and you are, literally, in foodie heaven. In the recipe you'll find Sam Tamimi's technique for getting the seeds out of the pomegranate, which I am afraid now is a very well-known secret."

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
(Serves 4)

2 large and long eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil (I used 2 Tbsp for 1 eggplant)
1 1/2 tsp lemon thyme leaves, + whole sprigs to garnish (I used regular thyme)

sea salt and black pepper
1 pomegranate (I used frozen pomegranate "seeds")
1 tsp za'atar

(I added 1 Tbsp toasted pine nuts)
9 Tbsp buttermilk (I recommend 5 Tbsp)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish (I just used 1/2 Tbsp)
1 small garlic clove, crushed 
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F. (Note: book says 200 °F but I assume this is a misprint)

Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look; don't eat it). Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern. 

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil—keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, (I roasted for 45 minutes) at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely. 

While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.

To make the sauce. Whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed. 

To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za'atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with lemon thyme. (I also added some toasted pine nuts for texture.) Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. (I omitted the last drizzle of olive oil and cut down the rest of the olive oil by about 1/2)

Notes/Results: I love the flavors in this dish. The eggplant is soft and creamy and the sauce is cool and tangy. With the slightly tart pomegranate seeds and the crunch of the added pine nuts, it is delightful spread on warm naan bread. I did cut the olive oil down by half--proportionally for the half-batch of the recipe that I made. More oil is more decadent, but I didn't feel like I needed the extra fat and calories and I don't think the dish suffered any reducing the amount. One thing I would also reduce next time is the amount of buttermilk in the dressing. I made the full amount and feel that 9 tablespoons of the buttermilk made the sauce too thin--next time I will cut it down to 4 or 5 so it has a thicker consistency. Since pomegranates have not made an appearance here yet, I used some frozen seeds/arils I had on hand. They are not as pretty as fresh seeds when defrosted but the taste is still good. I liked the leftover pine nuts that I tossed on top--the crunch was nice with the creaminess of the dish. This was easy to make and tasted great. I will definitely make it again.

You can check out what ingredients the other IHCC participants have learned to love by going to the "You Made Me Love You" post and following the links. 

***"Hungry"--Giveaway Winner***  
The randomly drawn winner of a copy of "Hungry: What Eighty Ravenous Guys Taught Me About Life, Love, and the Power of Good Food" by Darlene Barnes is Janet of The Taste Space who said, "My favourite meal in university was a black bean and salsa soup. So easy... I should make it again :)" Congratulations Janet! Email me with your shipping address and I'll have your copy sent to you! 


  1. I've always had a penchant for eggplant, I'm pretty sure and I've been meaning to make this cover recipe! I'm just not sure how the.boy would respond to me making him eat an eggplant for dinner...literally. :P One of these days when I'm alone for the night!

  2. I love eggplant but often don't cook it well. Frustrating... but I may try this as my pomegranates are just about ripe! Mmmm...

  3. Joyce, kitchen flavoursSeptember 12, 2013 at 4:41 AM

    I love eggplant and have been meaning to try one of Ottolenghi's eggplant dishes, still two weeks more!
    Having this with pomegranate looks really yummy! Trust him to pair eggplant with pomegranate!

  4. Couscous & ConsciousnessSeptember 14, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    I've been meaning to make this one for ages too, Deb - it looks gorgeous, and I love your addition of a few pine nuts for a bit of extra crunch.

    I remember as a kid my grandmother used to make a big batch of Brinjal (eggplant) Pickle every year, which was frequently served as an accompaniment to our Sunday curries, but other than that eggplant never made an appearance as a vegetable in our household.

  5. I haven't always liked eggplant but I probably would have if I'd tried this dish. Looks amazing!

  6. I'm ok with eggplant but we're not best friends by any means. I want to experiment with it more, but I have a terrible time finding it in stores. When I do find them they are all banged up or soft and just look terrible. I think this is such a pretty dish and I love that you served it on the naan bread.

  7. The temperature in the book is 200 C, not F. He's a London-based chef. As far as I know, no food item can really be baked at 200F anyway. But thanks for your recommended changes in the recipe. I'd love to reduce the oil and pack in some more flavour too! :)

  8. Thanks Nayantara. I probably could have explained myself better w/ the temp. The copy of Plenty I have is the all-US customary measurement version unlike his two other books published here which list both (US Customary & metric) measurements. It does have the misprint that says 200 F.--which I was calling out. I assumed he meant the common rounded up 400 F. exchange although many of his other veggie roasting recipes in the book call for a 375 F. oven.


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